New York chief justice steps aside from Trump gag order case

 June 20, 2024

A pair of judges on New York's highest court stepped aside from Donald Trump's appeal of the gag order in his "hush money" case.

Chief Justice Rowan Wilson recused himself from the case because the trial judge who imposed the gag order, Juan Merchan, is represented by a lawyer who works for the court system.

"Chief Judge Wilson is the head of the Court System," a spokesperson explained.

Judge bows out

Wilson was nominated to be Chief Justice by Democratic governor Kathy Hochul last year and confirmed by the state Senate.

Another judge, Caitlin Halligan, stepped aside from Trump's appeal because she worked for the Manhattan District Attorney's office in a separate case involving Trump, Trump v. Vance. 

That case arose from a subpoena for Trump's financial records issued by Cyrus Vance Jr., the predecessor of current Democratic DA Alvin Bragg, who secured a conviction against Trump last month on 34 counts of "falsifying business records."

Trump's lawyers have argued the gag order is baseless, now that the trial is over, and that it restricts Trump from engaging in "core political speech on matters of central importance at the height of his Presidential campaign."

Democrats including Trump's rival Joe Biden have capitalized on the verdict to label Trump, the presumptive Republican candidate for president, a convicted felon.

The New York Court of Appeals rejected Trump's First Amendment claim, finding it presented "no substantial constitutional question."

Trump gag order

Merchan has yet to rule on Trump's request to lift the gag order. Bragg has urged Merchan to leave the gag order in place until the July 11 sentencing, arguing it is still necessary to protect the "integrity" and "fairness" of the trial.

Merchan fined Trump $10,000 and threatened to put him in jail for violating the order, which prevents Trump from commenting on most people involved in the case, including witnesses, court staff, jurors, and prosecutors, with the exceptions of Bragg and Merchan.

The judge expanded the gag order to include his own family after Trump criticized Merchan's daughter's work for a Democratic consulting firm. Trump's lawyers tried unsuccessfully to have Merchan recused from the case over alleged conflicts of interest.

The mid-level appeals court rejected Trump's appeal on the gag order last month, finding Merchan "properly determined that [Trump's] public statements posed a significant threat to the integrity of the testimony of witnesses and potential witnesses in this case."

Trump's lawyers have vowed to appeal the verdict.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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